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Thursday, 8 August 1912

Senator GARDINER (New South Wales) . - I am in agreement with very much; that the Vice-President of the Executive Council has said. I was pleased to hear the effective answer he was able to give to the greater portion of the criticism of Sena- tor Millen. But, notwithstanding all that has been said, since we cannot deal with this Ordinance in detail, I shall vote against it, and chiefly on the ground of the enormous areas of land which may be leased under it. I am surprised that such proposals should have been made in connexion with a new territory, in which we might bring into existence ideal conditions, and in dealing with which we should be guided by the experience, and bitter experience, of the whole history, of settlement, not in one, but in every State of Australia. If there is one thing which, more than another, has retarded the development of this great Commonwealth, it has been the mistakes made in the early days by people who believed they were doing the right thing in granting land in huge areas. They entirely overlooked the interests and requirements of generations to follow. With all this experience before us, and a knowledge of the bitterness engendered in the fight which men who wanted land have had to make to secure it, because it had been granted in huge leases such as this Ordinance provides for, it is difficult to imagine the application of a worse system of land administration in the Northern Territory than is proposed by this Ordinance. I suppose it will be contended that, because the leasehold system is on the platform of the Labour party, we must accept it under any conditions. But, to my mind, there is very little difference between giving a man a freehold and giving him, as this Ordinance provides, a perpetual lease, not of a reasonably, but of an unreasonably, large area.

Senator Findley - The Northern Territory is a huge territory.

Senator GARDINER - That might be said of Australia years ago, when we first began making grants of land, and in the Bathurst district one man dedicated all the land to himself. I recognise that, in view of the hugeness of the territory, the fact that the land was unclassified, and the almost impossibility of handling it properly, there was some justification in the early days for the granting of land in large areas.

Senator Findley - But we provide that iri the Northern Territory we can resume land with compensation for improvements.

Senator GARDINER - Granting that that provision is contained in the Ordinance, it does not do away with my objection to allowing it to go forth as the opinion of the Senate that the officials charged with the administration of the land of the Northern Territory may grant as leases a maximum area of first class pastoral land of 500 square miles, or 320,000 acres; a maximum area of second class pastoral land of 1,000 square miles, or 640,000 acres; and a maximum area of third class pastoral land of 3,000 square miles, or 1,920,000 acres.

Senator McGregor - That is outside the grazing classification altogether.

Senator GARDINER - I do not care what it is outside of. If the lands are so inferior that such areas are necessary to induce people to take them up, it would be a great deal better, in my opinion, to grant only areas of a reasonable size, and leave what is not taken up under those conditions as common lands in the hands of the Government, to meet the requirements of advancing settlement. It should not be forgotten that every man placed in the possession of a huge area of country is an enemy of closer settlement from the day on which he secures possession of it.

Senator McColl - They have seen that in America.

Senator GARDINER - It is a part of the history of land settlement everywhere. A man once in possession of a huge area of land becomes an enemy to closer settlement. I know that in New South Wales, where a big pastoral holding was divided, and the land thrown open under the improvement lease provisions, the pastoral lessee, who was a straightforward man, gave evidence on oath that the land would not produce wheat, and yet a man who had secured an improvement lease of some of the land swore that he had got twelve bushels an acre from it. The pastoralists honestly believed that the land they held was not suitable for farming.

Senator McGregor - Has the honorable senator no confidence in the Classification Board when he talks like that?

Senator GARDINER - My experience of Classification Boards has not been such as to induce me to repose very much confidence in them. As late as. 1895 the New South Wales Government, in dealing with what were believed to be inferior lands, heavily timbered, and requiring the expenditure of large sums of money before they would be fit for farming purposes, threw them ©pen under improvement lease conditions. The result was that the country was immediately subdivided into huge areas under improvement leases. There was then an outcry about the huge areas that were being leased under leases for twenty-eight or forty years, and in less than ten years it was discovered that these areas included some of the best farming lands in New South Wales. I can refer to one of these leases, known as Wingadee, which came under the purview of a Royal Commission, and when it was thrown open to settlement 600 persons made application for the land in farming blocks of about 1,000 acres each. Ten years' experience and knowledge had made it plain that the Parliament and people who consented to the granting of this land in large areas had made a mistake. I venture to say that if, in the Northern Territory, any effective remedy against the tick were discovered, the value of the lands there would be enhanced by many thousands of pounds. If it were found that cattle grazing could be carried on as successfully in the Northern Territory as in what are at present healthier parts of Australia, what would then become of the proposed third class grazing areas?

Senator McGregor - They would be reclassified.

Senator GARDINER - That is too thin for me.

Senator Sayers - What Government would be -there to do it?

Senator GARDINER - Just so. Senator Sayers might be in charge, and he could be trusted not to reclassify the land against the interests of his friends. The huge areas proposed to be granted under this Ordinance are to me entirely objectionable. I do not object to reasonable rewards in the shape of big areas of land being granted to the pioneers of a new country who are willing to undergo risks. But I do object to locking up land of which we know very little at the present time in the way proposed by this Ordinance. I admit that there is a provision for the resumption of land on the payment of improvements. I suppose that/ in the beginning, the land will be taken up chiefly by companies. 1 can go back to the Land Act of 1 86 1 of New South Wales, when Sir John Robertson made provision for free selection before survey upon land granted in areas such as are proposed in this Ordinance to men who received their grants before constitutional government was established in New South Wales.

Senator Findley - The" South Australian Government granted one company 20,000 square miles of land in the Northern Territory.

Senator Millen - On a terminable lease.

Senator Findley - Yes, for forty-two years. '

Senator GARDINER - Before constitutional government was established in New South Wales, land had been granted in huge areas, and I can remember the great change which took place when the old cry of free selection before survey was raised. There was then nearly a revolution in the State. We had on one side the landed classes, backed up with the money they had at their disposal, fighting the people who wanted to pioneer and develop the country in the proper way. Even when that Bill was passed, and the squatters found themselves beaten at the polls, what did they do? They simply put dummies on the land from one end of the State to the other, and still aggregated big estates. This Parliament was engaged a year or two ago in imposing a land tax to compel these landowners, if they would not sub-divide their holdings, at any rate to pay a fair share towards the government and defence of the Commonwealth. With ideal conditions obtaining in the Northern Territory, and with our eyes wide open to the bitter experience of a century of land settlement in Australia, the Government are proceeding along the same blundering lines as were followed in New South Wales. I do not care how democratic, good-hearted, intelligent, or straightforward the members of the Classification Board may be, if we lead the Board to believe that we think that an area of 1,920,000 acres of third class land is a reasonable pastoral lease, and some person shows that he has the necessary capital at his back to work that area, I do not see how they can refuse to grant a lease of that enormous area. In confirming this Ordinance, we are virtually saying to the Board, " Handle this land to the best advantage to the Commonwealth. We know that you offer every inducement to men to come, but so far as leasing is concerned, do not give any one a lease of an area larger than 1,920,000 acres."

Senator Millen - No; they can give to one man several leases.

Senator GARDINER - Could any one of us honestly find fault with the Classification Board, or the Administrator, for granting a lease up to the area which is set out in the Ordinance?

Senator Findley - What area would you be prepared to lease?

Senator GARDINER - I should be prepared to grant an area of a reasonable size. and also to allow the lessee the right to use other land for grazing purposes till it was taken up ; because no great revenue is likely to be derived from the leases. If the land is so inferior that nearly 2,000,000 acres are needed to make a holding, how much rent is the Government likely to get from a lease? I doubt if they will get enough to defray the cost of collection.

Senator Millen - The question of area has surely some relation to the term for which a lease is granted?

Senator GARDINER - I quite agree with the honorable senator. I recognise that there is means provided for taking the land back from a lessee if settlement and development should take place. If, for instance, gold were discovered on leased land, as was done in Western Australia, that would immediately make the land very valuable. Suppose that a man is pioneering, that gold is discovered on his leasehold, and that within a few months a town is established in the centre of a block, say, 55 miles square, for which he is paying a fraction of a penny per square mile, and has under lease for all time. What compensation is he going to get when this land is suddenly boomed from being worth a fraction of a penny to perhaps £100 a foot for street frontages ?

Senator McGregor - Then he cannot have the land; it will become a different class of land - town land.

Senator GARDINER - I do not care how inferior the land is; my argument is that the proposed area of a pastoral lease is unreasonably large.

Senator Findley - If the area were smaller, the position would be the same if gold were discovered on a leasehold.

Senator GARDINER - I am almost inclined to argue no farther, for the simple reason that I recognise that there is quite a number of methods by which land can be taken back from a lessee. I admit that to the utmost of their foresight the Government have made provision in that regard; but I object to land being leased in these huge blocks. 1 venture to say that the greater portion of the Territory is third class pastoral land. How many individuals will it need to form themselves into an exploring and prospecting company to take up pretty well the whole of the available land? What will happen if ten men come together and take up pastoral leases ?

Senator McGregor - What will the Director of Lands be doing? He will not be asleep. They will have to apply with other applicants.

Senator GARDINER - I think that the Director of Land will conduct the business as a sane man. If I owned all the land inthe Northern Territory, and I wired1 an instruction to my agent, " Lease land under these conditions, but take care, in the case of third class land, you do not give leases of more than 1,920,000 acres," I take it that, as an intelligent man, he would believe that his instruction was that if a suitable man came along he was to give him a lease of that area of land. I admit that the greater portion of the land in the Northern Territory will be classified as third class land. On the well-watered rivers and the lowlying country you may have rich farming land, and also cane land. Then we get the different belts. We have only to look at the bulletin issued by the Department of External Affairs as to an exploration party which covered many miles of the country to see the daily record of individuals who are on the spot. We have to face this fact: that the greater part of the Northern Territory is third class pastoral land, and that, as such, it may be taken up in areas which should stagger the community. I shall not submit to .this provision without a protest. No doubt, the Vice-President of the Executive Council will say that I have been misled by the sophistries of the other side. I have tried to watch the development and settlement of land with a degree of fairness. Whenever a few years' experience has brought about altered conditions, I have not been one to say that things have been done in a dishonest way. We should not only look at matters as they are to-day, but should be guided by the experience of the past. We should try to put ourselves in the place of those who went before us in the State, fifty, or twenty, or ten years ago, and in the light of their experience to make better conditions for land settlement than they did.

Senator McGregor - Will you give us some idea of what you consider a fair maximum ?

Senator GARDINER - I do not think that it would improve the position a bit if I did.

Senator McGregor - Yes, it would.

Senator GARDINER - My idea would be altogether out of touch with the area allowed in the Ordinance, so far as regards land which is fit for settlement and likely to bring people to the Territory. So far as farm land is concerned, the area proposed is not only a fair, but a liberal one. The idea of a grazing block 55 miles square, speaking roughly, is ludicrous. Why, a lessee would have to ride 220 miles to go round his boundary. If the land is of such poor quality that a grazing block 55 miles square is considered a living area, what is the use of trying to secure settlement on land of that character under any conditions?

Senator Findley - We are not likely to get much settlement unless we offer good inducements to people.

Senator GARDINER - That is the old story. I am anxious to save the Commonwealth from scandals such as have arisen in New South Wales. Within 10 miles of the Carcoar and Millthorpe railway stations a huge area was granted under an improvement lease. It was inferior land, being only fit for grazing, and could not be used for farming except after a large expenditure. Within ten years from the issue of the lease a portion - 10,000 acres - was divided, and the biggest area which they offered to the farmers was a 900-acre block.

Senator McGregor - But that was owing to rotten administration.

Senator GARDINER - It was due to want of foresight on the part of those who passed the legislation. I plead guilty that I was one of those who were then prepared to pass the legislation, but I do not knowingly make two mistakes in my life.

Senator McGregor - You should give us an idea of what, in your opinion, would be a fair area.

Senator GARDINER - The honorable senator is very clever in trying to tie me down to an expression of opinion. A man with his eyes open to-day may believe that a certain area is barely sufficient for a living area, but, ten years hence, he may find that he was mistaken. Does the honorable senator want me to make that sort of mistake?

Senator McGregor - In twentyoneyears, you can correct that mistake. You could not do that in New South Wales.

Senator GARDINER - It could be done. . If there is no reasonable chance of the Government altering the Ordinance and providing a reasonable area for a pastoral lease-

Senator McGregor - How can we do that when you will not tell us what a rea sonable area is? If we made an alteration, you might say that the new area was too' small, or too large, and vote against it.

Senator GARDINER - This is a matter for consideration by experts who know the country.

Senator McGregor - That is just what it is.

Senator GARDINER - If the experts advise that an area of 1,920,000 acres of third class pastoral land is a reasonable area, the best thing the Government can do is to say, " So far as that class of country is concerned, we will leave it open to every man to graze his stock on, as people did centuries ago."

Senator McGregor - There is nothing compelling them to lease the land to anybody, lt merely says that if the land be leased, the condition will apply.

Senator GARDINER - That is the condition which is laid down for the guidance of those who will administer the Act. I have endeavoured to confine my objection to the enormous areas comprised in the leases which the Government are prepared to grant. " I venture to say that a Committee of this Parliament, with the evidence which is at their disposal in our public Departments, would be able to produce an Ordinance which would provide for the taking up of land by leaseholders in such areas that very little objection could be urged to them. I shall vote against the Government upon this question, but not from any fiendish desire to thwart them. Only last night I was compelled to vote against them, and, as a loyal supporter, 1 protest against continually being placed in the position of having either to vote against them or to register a vote for which I should be sorry all my life.

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